Resonances of Messiaen in Dutilleux’s Protospectral Music

Music Theory Midwest 2021—Virtual Presentation

While the opening of Gérard Grisey’s Partiels (1975) is the quintessential emblem of spectralism, the series of gongs and winds that begins Henri Dutilleux’s Timbres, espace, mouvement (1978) enacts an equally striking rendering of the materiality of sound. This paper further explores the protospectral tendencies in the music of Dutilleux (a contemporary of Messiaen, Murail, and Grisey, his pupil). I chart a lineage from Messiaen to Grisey by way of Dutilleux, demonstrating how the latter theorized harmonic resonance and sonic materiality.

In the 1960s and 70s, Dutilleux explored three principal sources of resonance, all of which reflect Messiaen’s influence: sympathetic vibration, the octatonic collection(s), and the older composer’s “chord of resonance” and “chord of fourths.” Sympathetic resonance governs the first movement of Dutilleux’s Figures de Résonances for two pianos (1970–76). The sonorities performed by the Piano 1 combine to form Messiaen’s “chord of resonance,” a subset of his third mode of limited transposition that is based on the overtone series. At the end of Figures de Résonances, Dutilleux deploys the octatonic collection (Messiaen’s second mode) as a means of generating resonance. Alongside the pitch elements at work, the opposite dynamics and articulations between the two pianos result in an overall transfer of energy from the staccato Piano 2 to the sustained Piano 1. Finally, the ending of Métaboles (1963–64) employs Messiaen’s “chord of fourths,” a rendering of his fifth mode. These examples reveal that, building on Messiaen’s fascination with resonance, Dutilleux himself deeply engaged with spectral thinking.